Thinking About A Vision for Theological Eduction

In class last week we discussed James Wm. McClendon‘s baptist theological vision. His small ‘b’ baptist vision has five characteristics of the church that standout as a good framework from which any theology should be done. These five points are:

  1. Biblicism – Acceptance of the Bible as authoritative in faith and practice, or faith and obedience. This doesn’t necessarily entail literalism or a tight, fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Instead, it points to the particular role the Bible plays in shaping the kinds of disciples the church makes.
  2. Mission – A focus on evangelism, every member is obligated to bear witness even if it brings persecution. For McClendon, who writes from the free church tradition, evangelism isn’t equated to a door-to-door style of converting, but rather a holistic approach to embodying the kingdom of God, which does include proclamation but isn’t limited to it.
  3. Liberty – The competancy of the believer to stand and face to face God, without the need of a priest, mediator or the state. This resonates deeply with Quaker sentiments about the immediacy of God’s Spirit.
  4. Discipleship – A life transformed by the formation of Christ and brought in line with the community of God. For McClendon Baptism marks the entrance into this community.
  5. Community – The church shares in a narrated life together, tied to the Biblical story and rooted in the historic testimonies of those who have gone before us. McClendon suggests that the Lord’s supper is the primary sign of this narrative unity.

When I got to think about this a bit more, I realized these five things could make for a great starting point in creating a vision for theological education. Here are some meanderings back over the five topics but in line with educational ideas:

  1. Biblical studies — Much of our Biblical current Biblical studies is to dissect the texts, understand much in the same way as we may dissect a frog or cow’s eye in our biology class. We approach the text, often times, scientifically, but what if we learned to be more creative with it? To read it more in a way that resulted in what Anabaptists have called a “Hermenuetic of Obedience.” That is to say, what if our classes were as much about living out, role playing and responding to the text, as it was about picking and pulling it apart?
  2. Mission — The study of missions and culture is finally starting to get some traction and is getting picked up by at least some of the school’s I am aware of. This is well and good, but what if at the very core of our theological education was the fact that the church is constituted by and as a result of God’s mission in the world? What if cross-cultural experience was not a wooden requirement, but just an assumed part of learning?  What if theology students culture studies
  3. Liberty — Spiritual formation, classes on disciplines and practices, spaces for prayer, and partnership with monastery, gardens, etc all done in a way that makes spirituality more than just a classroom exercise. Prayer walks and vigils off campus for needs within the city, country and world would be one way to make this an activity that is focused outward.
  4. Discipleship — Mentorship programs for every student, classes on pastoral care and discipleship, apprenticeship-type work with local churches, businesses, etc are just a few possibilities. Mentoring kids from local schools who need a positive figure in their lives could be a great service.
  5. Community — This would include church history in a way that helps to communicate that students are a part of a historical and global community as well as the specific study of traditions represented within the class. Encouraging work within the local community (instead of work study – plug students into local work) so that students have contact with those outside the college/seminary as well as outside the local churches. Small group cohorts throughout the program could help build comradery.

These are just some ideas on ways to formulate theological education using McClendon’s characteristics, there’s a lot missing, but it’s a start. If you would like to add to the list of ideas please chime in!

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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